First Take: ACME F&B on McKinney Avenue

Crab and grapefruit gratin with house pita (photos by Desiree Espada)

The day after ACME F&B opened on June 1, food blogs were buzzing with ACME fever, probably because every food critic in town was googly-eyed with the Dream Team that conceived of the restaurant in the first place. Who could blame them?  Cool chef/owners Colleen O’Hare and Jeana Johnson of Good 2 Go Taco partnered with equally cool Barcadia owners Brooke Humphries and Brianna Larson to open an upscale, yet all-you-can-wear-jeans restaurant-bar at McKinney and Monticello.

ACME F&B is the kind of place you go to get away from grandiose dining rooms with all the pomp and circumstance your comfy GAP t-shirts weren’t designed to enter. But at a restaurant whose interior Jeana Johnson describes as “steampunk farmhouse” (Use Wikipedia if you weren’t culturally conscience back in the 1980s/early 1990s) where an industrial-looking furnace built by Steve Maybury, and vintage décor – like an old cast iron and lampshade – complement dark wood walls, those grungy boots in the back of your closet can finally see the light.

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Patio shot (left); Summer chop salad with three seed vinaigrette (right)
People hanging out at the bar in the back

The driving force behind ACME F&B is the owners’ desire to implement a whole animal allocation program. Most restaurants usually just order certain cuts of meat from a farmer or source, but ACME F&B buys the whole animal and uses all of its parts. This means that a whole pig – not just the tenderloins or the filet – actually has a home at any of O’Hare and Johnson’s three restaurants (Good To Go, Goodfriend, ACME F&B). This whole animal allocation program was conceived with farmers in mind, which just so happens to be the guys at Genesis Farm and Sloan’s Creek Farm who provide local, antibiotic-free, and hormone-free meat.

“To be honest, most people (restaurants) don’t use farm raised beef. For one, the farmer can’t keep up with the supply of the restaurant. If restaurants wanted to put out filets -just filets – a busy restaurant would go through two cows in one night, and the farmer doesn’t have enough time in a day to sell the rest of the 90% of the animal to some other dude,” says Jeana Johnson.

Colleen O'Hare, Brooke Humphries, Brianna Larson, and Jeana Johnson laughing

Johnson and her pal O’Hare have been cooking together since 2004 and haven’t stopped since. They agree that most farmers aren’t supported by enough restaurants these days, and they are trying to remedy that the best way they know how.

Using a whole animal at ACME F&B requires a certain flexibility on the part of the guests. The meat dishes on the menu are constantly changing because once a certain cut of meat runs out, the chefs have to move onto another cut.  Last Friday, for example, ACME F&B had three different beef entrees. It started out with filet and short rib, then there was rib-eye and short rib, and then it was strip and steak tartare.

Beef liver schnitzel with fried egg, capers, and rocket greens (left); Bar area (right)
Bread salad with Kalamata olives and baby Romaine lettuce

The menu is down-to-earth and exactly what you’d expect to eat inside a rustic farmhouse. One of the starters I had was a daily farmers schnitzel ($12) that happened to be offered in beef liver that day. The crusty top of the schnitzel (also comes in beef heart, beef tongue, or lamb kidney) cradled a salty demiglaze sauce topped with a sunny side fried egg, capers, caramelized onions, and rocket greens. For its sheer size, it could have been an entrée in itself. And by the time I’d finished the other starter, a crab and grapefruit dip ($14) that came with hearty housemade pita chips, I was completely full.

If you’re looking for a light second course, the summer chop salad with three seed vinaigrette sauce ($8) is a better alternative to the soggy warm bread salad with Kalamata olives and baby Romaine lettuce ($9), which looks pretty intimidating if you take a good look at Desiree’s photo.

Chicken and dumplings tends to be one of the popular third course dishes, but I went with the braised rabbit ($27) instead, where fried onion strings provided a nice, crunchy textural opposite to the soft three-onion bed of risotto.

Braised rabbit with three onion risotto

What’s truly amazing about ACME F&B is the service. At no point during the entire meal was I ever left wanting or needing something that I didn’t have already. A server assistant came by our table twice to wipe the crumbs off of my table and refilled my water glass several times. My dinner partner was recovering from a cold and asked for a cup of hot water at the beginning of our meal, but she ended up drinking three mugs full without ever asking for a refill.

Each table also has a front wait who brings the food to your table, and a captain who guides you through the menu. He or she is the one who explains to new guests why ACME F&B changes its menu daily, stressing the importance of what the Good To Go and Barcadia women are trying to implement: better treatment of farmers while keeping the quality of food top-notch.

“It’s all about re-educating people,” says Jeana Johnson. “Our staff does an amazing job of keeping people informed, but would it be a lot easier for us to call up ACME Meat Co. and [tell them] I want a box of big filets ready to put on the grill when they come to my back door and have that all that time? Yes, it would be. But no one said doing the right thing was the easy thing.”

11 comments on “First Take: ACME F&B on McKinney Avenue

  1. Good food, good service and then you have to look at people that look like they just came from working in the yard.

  2. Agree w/above poster. Food/service/price point (excellent/excellent/steep!) is incongruous with the atmosphere. Who wants to pay $30 an entree sitting next to a table full of dudes in shorts and flip-flops?

  3. I, too loved the Acme F&B concept and was eager to check it out. They incorporated so many fun and unexpected elements in the finish out, re-purposing various construction elements and mechanical equipment into artwork, light fixtures, flooring, tables, adding architectural interest and instant character to the place. Even the check holders were a clever reuse of old pencil boxes. The place feels nice, comfortable and modern but not stuffy.

    The whole animal concept and locally sourced ingredients are things I was excited to see as well. When we went, everything we tried was good, some very good. However, the average price point of $28-$35/entree is just too high. For me, that’s where Acme F&B falls short. As they move forward, I hope Acme F&B can figure out a way to keep the quality aspects that make them so appealing, but bring the average entree price point to be more in line with the $18-$25 range to make it more competitively priced because, at $30 a plate (not including appetizers, salad, dessert or beverages), there just are too many other places I’d rather eat.

  4. It’s all looks good! I’m going even if no one else wants to go! I’ll be the fit, nice looking woman by herself. Pull up a seat and we can discuss why everyone else should go to Acme too!

  5. i thought the food bordered on terrible but i might give it an average based on how cute the decor is. they have a really cute patio and the interior design is country cute minimalist. however, the food kinda sucks. which is too bad bc i was excited to try it. our grapefruit/crab dip was cold on the inside and when we told the waiter, he just heated it up in a microwave – same exact dish. they didnt even make an attempt to tidy it up – weird, right? we had the pork chop and fish special – both totally oversalted that its all we tasted. the bourbon brownie tasted like a cafeteria cake with some cherries drenched in bourbon. on top of it, like others stated, its way overpriced. lots of cuter restaurants if you want to overpay for average food.